Vermont Salt Pan

The Vermont Salt Pan is reached by turning off the R43 into Vermont Avenue at the OK Shopping Centre. Continue down this road and turn right into Penguin Lane from where a parking area is reached at 34°24’36.59”S 19°09’43.52”E. A picnic bench is available here and a partially paved trail takes one along the eastern and southern sections of the pan.

A trio of Greater Flamingos wade through the shallow water at the Vermont salt pan.
Greater Flamingos (Riaan Jacobs)

Note should however be taken of important conservation concerns at the salt pan summarised briefly in the last few paragraphs below. For these reasons the description that follows should in actual fact be regarded as historical in nature, because the presence of particular species and their abundance at the salt pan is changing dramatically.

A great diversity of birds associated with water habitats is available and in spring and early summer it is often possible to see up to forty species during an hour’s visit to the salt pan. The pan’s water level tends to drop considerably towards the end of summer and during dryer spells. Expect to find species such as the Pied Avocet, Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, Cape Shoveler and Cape and Red-billed Teals seasonally. The Yellow-billed Duck is usually abundant and in recent years good numbers of Maccoa Ducks have been recorded. Large numbers of the White-breasted Cormorant, Kelp Gull and Grey Heron breed here in summer. The Blacksmith Lapwing is common and Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers are present when conditions are favourable. The Red-knobbed Coot, Little Grebe and Common Moorhen are numerous and the Black Crake and African Swamphen can sometimes be seen moving around at the base of the reeds. The calls of the more secretive Little Rush Warbler and Lesser Swamp Warbler can also be heard from the reeds on most days, with the African Reed Warbler adding to the calls during summer months. Look carefully for the nocturnal Black-crowned Night Heron as good numbers of this species are often present and breed here as well. Species that have been recorded rarely include the Baillon’s Crake, Black-necked Grebe and Blue-billed Teal. The salt pan has in the past been in the news for the recording of very rare birds that are regarded as vagrant to the region such as the Lesser Black-backed Gull, Little Ringed Plover and Sedge Warbler.

General birding in the reed beds and other vegetation around the pan should also not be underestimated. Abundant endemic species are the Cape Bulbul, Cape Canary, Fiscal Flycatcher, Karoo Prinia, Cape Weaver and Cape White-eye. Other common species include the Brimstone Canary, Grey-backed and Levaillant’s Cisticolas, Cape Robin-Chat and Olive Thrush. The Common Waxbill and Pin-tailed Whydah are particularly active during breeding season. Larger species of note are the Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-headed Heron, Cape Spurfowl and Spotted Thick-knee. There is a large stand of Milkwood trees on the eastern side of the pan. This hosts species such as the Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, African Dusky Flycatcher, Sombre Greenbul and Southern Tchagra, with the African Paradise Flycatcher being very active in summer. Also search carefully for the Spotted Flycatcher at this time of year – it is easily confused with the resident African Dusky Flycatcher.

Flamingos gather in the shallows to feed at the Vermont salt pan.
Vermont salt pan (Anton Odendal)

Concern is expressed about the impact of environmental issues at the salt pan resulting in changes in bird species composition and numbers at the salt pan. Regular Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWACs) and informal counts have been undertaken in the past and the results of the two most recent counts in August and November 2019 show that certain species had almost disappeared when compared to counts during these months in previous years. This applies particularly to ducks and waders. It is recommended that water quality samples need to be taken regularly in view establishing the possible causes of these changes at the Vermont salt pan. This pan used to be one of the most important birding destinations in the Overstrand and the deterioration of species composition and abundance could have a direct detrimental effect on birding tourism to the region.

A grove of eucalyptus trees to the north-west of the salt pan has recently been removed, apparently due to future housing developments on that side of the pan, as well as other environmental considerations. Several bird species bred in these trees in the past and these included birds of prey such as the Forest Buzzard, African Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk and Black and Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks. In the past these species were often seen flying over the water with nesting material or food for their chicks.

A visit to the Vermont Salt Pan is however still recommended strongly as the quality and quantity of birds in such a small area is outstanding. Further to this there are extensive green belts in the suburb of Vermont itself and birding here can be exceptional. Expect to find species similar to those described under the Onrus Caravan Park. A slow drive through Vermont is always worth the effort. Also note that there are three parking areas with magnificent ocean views available in Vermont. These are at the end of Bitou Street (34°25’16.87”S 19°09’17.09”E), the Jan Rabie Tidal Pool along Marine Drive (34°25’06.68”S 19°09’46.07”E) and at Davies’ Pool also along Marine Drive at the western end of the Onrus Caravan Park (34°25’00.33”S 19°09’59.20”E). 

The Vermont, Onrus, Sandbaai (VOS) coastal path is also available for more active bird-watchers wanting to hike through relatively unspoilt coastal Fynbos. The ocean views are breathtaking and species available are similar to those found in the descriptions of the Hermanus Cliff Path and VOS coastal path.

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